Red Team praised, but no substance yet on Y-12 future


photo (21)-001

From left, at today news conference in the Howard Baker Jr. office at the University of Tennessee, are U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason all expressed optimism Friday that a solution to modernizing the uranium operations at Y-12 in a timely and affordable way is in the works.

But they offered few details about a Red Team review, which Mason headed this spring, and how the results may change the course of a project — known as the Uranium Processing Facility — which the Government Accountability Office and other analysts said had reached a cost of $10 billion or more and was basically out of control.

The recently completed Red Team review, which has not been publicly released, was supposed to come up with an alternative plan that would allow the Oak Ridge plant to relocate its essential uranium functions — now housed in a World War II-era facility known as 9212 — and have those missions operating in safe and secure facilities by 2025. The Red Team’s other mandate was to provide a solution that would cost no more than $6.5 billion.

The three distinguished officials attended a short news conference Friday afternoon before Moniz delivered the Baker Distinguished Lecture on Energy and Environment at the University of Tennessee.

“One of my major concerns as a United States senator has been the out-of-control costs of some of the big energy projects,” Alexander, R-Tenn., said before introducing Moniz.

Asked if he thought Congress would approve and fund an alternative uranium project at Y-12 if the price tag did not exceed $6.5 billion, Alexander said, “I think so. This is an urgent national need. This handles all the uranium for our weapons systems.”

Moniz said he didn’t want to talk about details until the Red Team had briefed key officials on Monday and later next week. Among those to be briefed on Monday is retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, who was sworn in last week as the new head of the National Nuclear Security Administration. If the alternative approach is well received, Klotz will likely be the administration’s point man during the congressional appropriations process.

The Red Team consisted of about 25 experts drawn from around the Department of Energy’s national laboratories, headed by Mason. The team was given less than three months to come together, visit Y-12 on a couple of different occasions and mesh their thoughts into workable ideas and concepts.

The base proposal reportedly will recommend construction of a scaled-down new uranium facility to replace the 9212 complex by 2025.

That part of the project would be supplemented by significant investments in some of Y-12’s existing facilities — notably the Beta-2E facility, where warhead parts are assembled, and 9215, where uranium parts are machined — to extend their useful production lives.

“It’s an exercise that certainly lays out a possible path,” Mason said.

A new feature on Atomic City Underground allows readers to sign up for email updates and receive a notice each time new information is posted on the news blog. Just put your email address in the box on the lower right of the blog’s front page and follow instructions. Thanks to all loyal readers.

This entry was posted in DOE HQ, ORNL, UPF, USEC, Y-12 on by .

About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.